Challenging behaviour used to be described as ‘problem behaviour’ or ‘difficult behaviour’ or ‘socially unacceptable behaviour’. But in recent years, the term challenging behaviour reflects the fact that some of the behaviours are a challenge to professionals, teachers, carers and parents.

That means the person showing these behaviours is not a ‘problem’ to be fixed, or someone doing something ‘wrong’, but that the behaviour is a sign that something isn’t working.

It shows that there is some need being unfulfilled, or a problem with communication.

In essence it is that there is something going wrong that needs to be addressed, not that there is a person doing something wrong who needs to be stopped.

In other words, behaviour is challenging if it causes harm to the person or others, or if it stops them fulfilling some aspect of their lives, such as:

  • Someone cannot go to school because they show some aggressive behaviour
  • Someone cannot go swimming because they tend to run off.

It is the impact of these behaviours that makes them challenging. Challenging behaviour can be:

  • Self-injurious: Head-banging, scratching, pulling, eye poking, picking, grinding teeth, eating things that aren't food.
  • Aggressive: Biting and scratching, hitting, pinching, grabbing, hair pulling, throwing objects, verbal abuse, screaming, spitting.
  • Stereotyped: Repetitive movements, rocking, repetitive speech and repetitive manipulation of objects.
  • Non-person directed: Damage to property, hyperactivity, stealing, inappropriate sexualised behaviour, destruction of clothing, incontinence, lack of awareness of danger, withdrawal.

More support and information

Tips on managing behaviour

Tips from parents and professionals who have experience of challenging behaviour